Ships of Pearl Harbor: USS Hoga

December 22, 2018

USS Hoga (YT-146) isn’t particularly well-known among the ships that were based at Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack on December 7, 1941. The much-larger battleships, with their thousands of crewmen, were the primary targets for the Imperial Japanese Navy. But Hoga was there, and she sprang into action in the midst of the chaos. As a harbor tug, she may not have had weapons to fight back, but Hoga’s crew still found themselves in the thick of the action.

USS Hoga at Pearl Harbor

In her position off the 1010 Dock near the drydocks of Pearl Harbor, Hoga was in the perfect position for her crew to see the destruction firsthand as it was unfolding. In an interview decades later, Assistant Tugmaster Robert Brown recalled being able to see planes flying overhead and ships on fire from the pilothouse. Chief Boatswain’s Mate Joseph B. McManus had the same view through his porthole, where he saw USS Oklahoma (BB-37) already listing badly.

USS Hoga immediately got underway at the start of the attack. With no means of defending the harbor against the incoming attackers, Hoga was ordered to provide assistance wherever she could. Rushing toward Battleship Row, she rescued two men in the harbor.

USS Hoga (YT-146) pushing USS Nevada (BB-36) to safety, 7 December 1941

USS Hoga (YT-146) pushing USS Nevada (BB-36) to safety, 7 December 1941

When she got Battleship Row, Hoga’s crew found the repair ship USS Vestal (AR-4) struggling to break free of the burning and sinking USS Arizona (BB-39). Vestal took on damage as well and was unable to disengage from the battleship. With lines thrown from the tug, Hoga was able to pull Vestal away from Arizona, ultimately saving the repair ship. With USS Vestal rescued, Hoga's crewmen turned their attention to USS Oglala (CM-4), a minelayer that had been damaged when a torpedo  detonated nearby. It was chaos at Pearl Harbor, but Hoga continued assisting where she could.

The primary task at Pearl Harbor that morning was often simply a matter of minimizing the number of casualties. Among the ships that Hoga wound up helping was USS Nevada (BB-36), the only one of the battleships to get underway during the attack. Once she was moving, Nevada immediately became a focus of the Japanese bombers, who hoped to sink her in the channel and block access to the open sea. In order to prevent this, Nevada made a run toward Hospital Point, where she was safely grounded with the assistance of Hoga and a second tug.

In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Admiral Chester Nimitz commended Hoga’s crew for their efforts. For much of the war, Hoga remained in Pearl Harbor, assisting with the cleanup and salvage efforts. Even after the war she continued salvage and heavy duty repair until 1948, when she was transferred to the Port of Oakland to be used as a fireboat.

USS Hoga Today

USS Hoga (YT 146) alongside USS Razorback (SS-394) at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum

USS Hoga (YT 146) alongside USS Razorback (SS-394) at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum

Many of Pearl Harbor’s vessels have been scrapped or lost to the sea, but Hoga had a happier fate. In 1989, she was declared a National Historic Landmark and in 2015, she sailed to the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum. In an echo of the USS Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri at Pearl Harbor representing the beginning and end of the war, Hoga, together with USS Razorback (SS-394), which was present in Tokyo Bay for the formal surrender, will serve the same symbolic function.

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